Much of my writing on mindfulness is about embracing the moment, how to use mindfulness in varying tough situations (see my last post, Mindful Arguing), and how beneficial mindfulness is to health and wellbeing. In all of the writing there is a hint of the power of the moment, the power to overcome conditioning and make a choice away from what might be the norm. This post will focus explicitly on the power one has in a moment of awareness.

Eckhart Tolle wrote a book about “The Power of Now”. I thought the book was brilliant, but it is not my intention to repeat it here. The basic premise is that all power available to us lies in the present moment, and he offers reasoning for and techniques to tap into that power. It is mentioned here in case you are interested in exploring the topic beyond this post.

Mindfulness, which is defined as a purposeful conscious awareness of the present moment without judgment, is a good beginning to any change. In order to change a behavior, there has to be an awareness of it arising. Normally, without this awareness, we react to internal and external stimuli out of conditioning. As I’ve written previously (Unconsciously Rushing to be Unconscious) this isn’t all bad. Mastering skills so we can perform them effortlessly and automatically has its benefits. But there are too many times these automatic responses are regretted or, more frequently, let the joy of a moment pass by. This post will focus on the former, those times when behavior can be changed to be more in line with chosen values and goals.

In “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”, one of the stated core processes is acting in accordance with one’s values (Hayes). Though this may seem like common sense, or something done regularly, it is not the case. Acting on impulse, or out of anger or defensiveness usually goes against what is a valued personality trait. The goal of ACT training is to be more mindful and choose action in accordance with self-selected values.

In the TED Talk, “Is There a Real You?” Julian Baggini posits that we can choose who we will be in any moment. He focuses on how what one defines as oneself is simply a sum of our parts, one of the most important of which is memories. He discusses how, while using an awareness of the present moment, you can choose who you will be, moment to moment.

Episode 15 of the podcast, “The Hidden Brain”, titled “Loss and Renewal”, tells the story of young woman who recreated herself after a loss. The host, Shankar Vedantam ends the show by saying, “We often underestimate our capacity to reinvent ourselves.” (2015). His statement is powerful. People are being shaped by experiences, and many are far from who they were 10 years ago. Using what I like to call, “the empowering moment” allows one to take charge of some of these changes.

The empowering moment is a technique I’ve been using in therapy. As with some mindfulness based therapies and Acceptance and Commitment Training, the goal is to simply identify who you want to be, and enact that behavior in the moment. The first step is to identify who / how the individual wishes to be. Any change begins with awareness of what is to change. The individual then practices mindfulness, whether through meditation or otherwise. In so doing, he is able to step back from the moment, and observe his reactions, thoughts, feelings, and external circumstances without judgment. Practicing mindfulness both enhances the behavioral change when the pressure is on, as well as leads to positive physiological changes (lower stress response, for example, and empirically verified health benefits too numerous to mention {see Keng, S.L; Smoski, M.J; Robins, C.J; 2011}). The individual identifies signs he is headed toward the unwanted behavior, when mindfulness can be used. When in the empowering moment, the individual is mindful, and acts in a manner consistent with how he wishes to behave. As there will be thoughts conflicting the desired behavior (old habits die hard, and often there is anxiety about making changes) the person returns to the moment, and allows his power to be felt and realized. This intervention is benefited by the idea that one creates oneself in every moment, and by accepting that power and responsibility.

A simplified but relatable example of this is desiring not to over-indulge in sweets. The individual is practicing mindfulness as described above. He has defined himself as someone who watches what he eats, and eats healthier. When an urge comes he becomes mindful of it, and reaffirms himself of who he wants to be. To reduce the urge techniques in mindfulness are used (It is helpful to view desire as a trickster, and saying, “Not this time desire. Nice try though”). The empowering moment is felt as a victory, is reinforcing, and helps to further its use.

No one does this, or any behavioral change, perfectly. There will be lapses of mindfulness. There will be lapses into the old behavior. A goal is progress, not perfection. One cannot be discouraged because of difficulty applying the behavioral change in the heat of the moment, or about forgetting to be mindful generally. The mind wonders. The power of conditioning is enormous. A goal is to have self-compassion, another powerful tool in mindfulness-based therapies.

When one is able to realize the empowering moment and act accordingly, there is often a surge of positive feeling. This feeling is reinforcing, and assists with further change. As has been said throughout the book “Buddha’s Brain”, you can rewire your brain by changing your behavior (Hanson, 2009). With these changes, further use of the techniques becomes easier. Eventually, your default will be more like the person you have created, rather than that of all of your conditioning. That is power.

Copyright William Berry, 2016

References:

Baginni, J; 2011; Ted Talk, Is There a Real You?; retrieved on 2/15/16 from: https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_baggini_is_there_a_real_you?language=en

Hanson, R; 2009; Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom; New Harbinger Publications; Oakland, CA.

Hayes, S; The Six Core Processes of ACT; retrieved on 2/15/16 from: https://contextualscience.org/the_six_core_processes_of_act

Keng, S.L; Smoski, M.J; Robins, C.J; 2011; Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies; Clinical Psychology Review.

Tolle, E; 1999; The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment; New World Library; Novato, CA.

Vedantam, S; (Host); 2015, Dec 29; Loss and Renewal (Audio Podcast); Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510308/hidden-brain

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